There’s an entire chapter about an Earth full of intelligent turtles. Must be a Pratchett thing.
|Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter in 2013|
The Long War is a metaphorical title, because there is hardly the sense that an actual war is about to break out at any point in the book. No, in this case, there is no war with guns or even spears, but more a pointed examination about humans and our tendency to become stupid and do stupid things.
Twenty five years have passed since humans began properly executing the Four Xs (eXploring, eXpanding, eXploiting and eXterminating) in the Long Earth, and the original awkward hero Joshua Valiente, is now married with a kid. He’s just been elected as the mayor of his new home, but still goes on long jaunts along the parallel universes with his not quite best friend Sally Linsay.
The Long War begins as a new kind of crisis erupts at the fringes of the explored western worlds. The trolls, peaceful, friendly and helpful are now being seen as mere animals for lab experiments by humans. Of course, they are sentient beings, and this clash of sentience results in a mass migration of trolls away from human settled worlds. This brings economic chaos, but a boon for chiropractors everywhere (presumably, since the trolls did all the heavy lifting on non-industrialised settlements).
As Joshua is persuaded by Lobsang and Sally to go on another jaunt to try to fix the troll problem, the Chinese have decided to mount an expedition to the twenty millionth world in the other direction once explored by Lobsang and Joshua, carrying with them Roberta, a most unlikeable child whose sense of humour is in line with that of a rock.
The Long War continues the world building of The Long Earth, and really, you could probably lump both of these books together to form something relatively coherent. This instalment continues that sense of exploration and pioneering spirit, with a few more intelligent species thrown into the mix, as well as some politics and possible natural disasters looming over the Earth(s).
The world building is interesting and some of it is even fun, like that world full of intelligent turtles that the Chinese expedition find along their journey. But I cannot help but feel this book is mistitled. Humans, once again discovering freedom and a really big backyard in which to expand into, begins to forget its manners once again, putting its muddy feet up on the couch and thinking it is superior to everything else.
What happens on the Datum Earth is largely inconsequential now, and the humans who still live there are sort of shunned by the authors. They are largely depicted as small minded and mean spirited by the politics they practice. The Americans even resort to sending out military blimps like the Mark Twain to try to bring about compliance with the laws of the good ol’ US of A. Fat lot of good that will do out in the wilderness two million worlds away.
Worldbuilding is a good thing, and all science fiction and fantasy novels need to do it continuously. The Long War does it a bit too well though, and probably forgets what the intended story is supposed to be. Man versus nature? Man versus itself? The past versus the future? It is not quite clear what you are supposed to feel as you meander your way across millions of parallel universes. But meander you do, down the river of Baxter and Pratchett. Still, you feel like you have just enjoyed a lovely cruise with some lovely scenery at the end of this book. Perhaps that is the point.
Fun, slightly ridiculous and enlightening. But not as engrossing as the first book.
Read this if you…
Don’t really care too much about a story that has a definite beginning and a definite end. Infinitely parallel universes will do that.
Don’t read this if you…
Are not in an exploratory mood.